Unique Ways Other Species Protect Themselves from Viruses and Illnesses

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

From washing hands and dousing surfaces with sanitizers to the creations of medicines and vaccines, we homosapiens are always searching for state of the art ways of protecting ourselves from germs and illnesses. But what about other animals? And even plants?! Different species have evolved incredible ways to keep themselves protected, not just from predators but also various bacterias, viruses, and illnesses in ways you may have never dreamed could be true!

MIND-BOGGLING BATS: It’s well known that bats can carry many viruses, including some that may be harmful to humans, yet bats themselves are many times not affected by these diseases. Bats are unique in that they are the only flying mammal, and during flight their body temperature can heat to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit while their heart rate may spike to above 1,000 beats per minute! Most mammals could not withstand these bodily conditions and high metabolic rates, so scientists believe that the bat has developed a special immune system which is not only incredibly efficient at repairing damaged cells, but also prevents the bats immune system from becoming overactive in response to maladies.

  • Don’t hate on bats! They control pest populations, are important pollinators, and spread the seeds of many different plant species. Scientists and engineers have also used the unique anatomy of bats to advance different technologies, and virologists can learn a lot about how to help humans through studying bats' resilience to different viruses. Learn more about the importance of bats here: https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125883

TRULY INSPIRATIONAL TREES: In the past few years, scientists have begun to discover direct evidence of communication within tree communities (that’s right--our wooden brothers and sisters can “talk” to each other, too!). Through a special symbiotic relationship known as mycorrhizae, tree root systems work together with a fungus (mycelium) to not only share water and nutrients amongst one another, but also send signals of danger due to drought, disease, and infestation when under threat to surrounding trees.

PROACTIVE ANTS: Ants take their dead away from the colony to ensure that if the deceased ant did have something contagious, the rest of the colony would be less likely to contract the illness. A study found that in a contained environment, in which ants were blocked off from carrying the dead away from the colony, they did other things to separate themselves from the corpse including moving the body to the least active part of the colony and even burying the dead ant with different substances.

VILE-BELLIED VULTURES: Vultures have some of the lowest levels of gastric pH in the animal kingdom. The high acidity in their stomachs allows them to safely eat carrion (rotting flesh) packed with bacterias while also breaking down bones. Imagine the bad breath on those birds!

Suggested Activity:

Use your imagination! Draw a picture or write a description of a totally new living thing and its unique defense mechanism that it uses to protect itself from viruses, bacteria, or other illnesses.

List of Sources

Bats: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6410205/#B1-viruses-11-00192 https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/09/803543244/bats-carry-many-viruses-so-why-dont-they-get-sick https://www.nps.gov/subjects/bats/benefits-of-bats.htm

Trees: GREAT (and short) video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kHZ0a_6TxY

Ants: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140807-how-animals-deal-with-infection

Vultures: https://insider.si.edu/2014/11/vultures-remarkably-tolerant-to-deadly-bacteria-study-reveals/DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:dtqsg

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